"What did you say? I'm just putting my fish custard in the oven!". It's a sentence I can safely say I've never said before and don't think I ever will again, but it was uttered in my house this week.
You see, I was at a crucial point in this week's forgotten recipe - my egg custard was looking ready to curdle, and the dish needed to go into the oven before it was ruined. Many people, upon hearing the term "fish custard", might argue that the recipe ruined before it was even begun. But surely: fish? Good. Custard? Good. What could go wrong...
I'm starting to think that our grandparents and their generation were a lot less squeamish than ourselves when it came to trying new things. Not one person who asked what I was cooking this week reacted with anything more positive than a curled lip. "Are you going to eat it?" I was asked on multiple occasions. I think that by now we all know I'd eat a packet of crayons if I was hungry enough, but if I'm being honest, even I couldn't work out how fish was going to taste nice being baked in custard.
The fish in question was Findon haddock (or haddie); a cold-smoked haddock so-called because of its origins in the village of Finnan, or Findon, in the north east. Traditionally, Findon haddock was served over poached milk for breakfast - not too dissimilar from the forgotten recipe. But, (and I couldn't help feeling this was beginning to feel like something of a mantra), how was it going to taste when sweet?
A quick skim through the ingredients slightly settled my worries - no sign of sugar. Skinless tomatoes (that supermarket staple...), cheese, eggs (of course) but no sugar. Maybe it was going to be more of a fishy quiche? Either way, enough hypothesising, and on with the recipe. I began by flaking my smoked haddock over a medium sized baking tray and sieving an ounce of plain flour slowly into half a pint of full fat milk on a low heat. Adding to this 2oz of mature cheddar and I had what basically constituted a cheese sauce. Leaving the sauce to cool, I added a liberal amount of seasoning and moved on to peeling my tomatoes.
The trick to this particular task was one my brother (a head chef) had taught me a few years back. Try to peel a tomato raw, and you'll be there all day crying into big pulpy mess. Instead, I scored the tomatoes all over with a sharp knife before blanching (otherwise known as sticking them in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds, hooking them out and then plunging them into a bowl of icy water). In a minute they'll be cool enough to take out and their skins will allow you peel them easily. Tomatoey magic.
The cheese sauce was cool enough to add my beaten eggs to now, very slowly in case of any sign of curdling. Let's be honest - this recipe had enough going against it without having a curdled element involved. Then, I placed the tomatoes (sliced) in the baking tray with the fish and poured the eggy custard all over. What would happen in the oven was anyone's guess. Maybe it would have to be crayons for dinner after all.
The custard took on a really lovely golden brown colour in the oven and after twenty minutes was ready to come out. Like a quiche, it had risen and looked and smelt - believe it or not - really quite delicious. The taste test, always the best part, proved that not did only did the custard look and smell like quiche but it tasted like it too. Sliced up into portions, my haddock custard made for the best packed lunch wrapped up in brown paper like a proper old school 'play piece'.
Here's how I did it.
Cheese and haddock custard
1 oz flour
1/2 pint milk
2oz grated cheese
1 cooked Findon haddock
1. Make sauce with milk and blended flour
2. Add cheese, season
3. Cool, add beaten eggs
4. Flake Findon, skin and slice tomatoes, place on a flat fireproof dish, season
5. Cover with sauce
6. Bake for 15-20 mins 350f.